Blackpool 2 Darlington 1
(25 November 2000): John Secker
Blackpool took three points from this encounter at Bloomfield Road this afternoon, which in the end was probably a fair result.However along the way they were lucky to be ahead in the first half, unlucky not to have buried Darlington in the second half, the victim of some terrible refereeing and finally they conceded another bizarre goal to leave the fans biting their nails during the last fifteen minutes.
It was a foul day for the game, with heavy rain at times and a cold blustery wind. If the teams had lined up down on the beach there would have been less sand on view, with the pitch outside the southern penalty area being particularly heavily treated. Blackpool stuck to the team which defeated Telford last week, so we had 3-5-2, with Reid, O'Connor and Hughes across the back, and Ormerod and Murphy up front. Even the bench was unchanged - Bushell is fit but Wellens has kept the starting slot, and Newell is the attacking substitute, with no sign of Nowland.
Before the start of the season this fixture might have been forecast as a top of the table clash, but Darlington have also struggled - they have reached fifth place a couple of times but recently a longslump has left them two places and two points behind Blackpool. As the game progressed it was easy to see why - in some ways Darlington reminded me of Blackpool a month or so ago, as they put together neat passing moves, denying us the ball, but they were unable to turn their possession into many dangerous chances. Coid struggled to deal with the numerous attacks up his wing, and Hughes seemed a little out of touch. He went off at half time with a back strain, which was presumably troubling him all the game. Reid and O'Connor were coping well with the balls which came across, but Kennedy did not have a good game in the air. Every now and then a pass got into the area, but fortunately none of the visiting forwards was able to take advantage.
At the other end Blackpool attacks were few and far between. Ormerod worked hard, but he seemed a little out of touch when the ball came to him. A lot of the home pressure came up the right wing, which was odd because Coid struggles to compete as a winger, while Hills, on the other side, is Blackpool's most attack-minded player. A good example came when a ball played across midfield came to Coid, who had acres of space ahead of him outside the fullback. However, instead of taking the ball forward up the wing, Coid simply played a hopeful ball for Ormerod to chase, with the keeper easily winning. By contrast, Blackpool's best chance in the early part of the game came when a ball was played inside the defender for Hills to run onto, near the corner of the box. The keeper came out, but Hills just beat him to it, and played the ball into the goalmouth. Now it was a race between Ormerod and a defender, but unfortunately the defender got there first.
At the other end Darlington had the vast majority of the pressure, and they had one golden chance in the middle of the half. A corner from the left came into the centre of the box, and wasn't cleared, giving a forward a free shot from about five yards out. Luckily he fired his shot straight into the chest of Coid, who was on the near post, and it bounced away to safety. There were several other opportunities, none quite so clear cut, but which should perhaps have put Kennedy more to the teat. A long range shot from right of centre was cleanly saved, and several others went wide or high.
The first goal, when it came, was well against the run of play, and really out of nothing. An attack by Hills up the left had resulted in a ball into the middle, outside the area, and a defender got to the ball and played a backpass wide. However the keeper was slow to pick it up and it went for a corner. Simpson took it, and as he did so there was nobody on the near post. However Ormerod rectified that, running in to meet the ball, and it was planted between the keeper and the post for a very neat goal. After this Darlington still kept the upper hand, and when half time came it was hard to convince yourself that Blackpool were really ahead.
After half time Clarkson replaced Hughes, with Blackpool reverting to 4-4-2. The change of formation combined with a change of tactics - there were too many long aimless high balls in the first half - meant that Blackpool were suddenly much the better team. Clarkson, Simpson and Ormerod were running onto balls into space and putting the defence under pressure every time. Five minutes into the half Blackpool were attacking up the middle when a defender handled just outside the box. Simpson stood over the ball while the referee waved the wall back about six yards, but this didn't worry the Blackpool player. He ran up shaping to curve the ball left of the wall, but as the keeper moved to cover, Simpson blasted it the other side of the wall and into the net.
In the next twenty minutes Blackpool were completely dominant, and should have buried Darlington without trace. There were a number of golden chances, but every time Blackpool just failed to convert them. Simpson took another free kick, about 30 yards out this time, and fired a good low shot near the right hand post. The keeper just saved it, and though he lost the ball he managed to gather it again just before Ormerod got to him. On another attack Ormerod took the ball into the box, left of centre - he shaped to shoot, and perhaps he should have done, but instead he rolled it to Murphy. The ball bobbled on the rough surface and Murphy failed to make good contact, putting his shot wide. Later Ormerod raced down the left wing onto a good ball, cut in a little and chose to shoot, as the rest of the Blackpool attack had not kept up with him. He rolled the ball past the keeper, but unfortunately also past the far post.
The referee had been very poor and inconsistent, and as the game went on he got worse. With about twenty minutes to go there was a clash of heads in the centre circle, and a Darlington player went down. The ref let play go on, until the ball came to Hills, who had space up the wing in front of him. At this point the ref chose to blow up, and of course after the drop ball we had possession back in our own defence.
A few minutes later the referee had a more obvious effect on the result. Ormerod, running off the ball, was brought down. The ref gave nothing, and moments later the ball went out for a Darlington throw. Ormerod was still down, and the ref talked to his linesman, then booked one of the Darlington defenders. However he then allowed the game to carry on with the throw. If the defender was booked for a foul, Blackpool should have been given a free kick.
This mattered a lot, because the throw went down the wing, and a cross was put in low. Kennedy came out at the feet of a forward, and seemed to have gathered the ball. However in the scramble the ball somehow came loose. The referee was satisfied that no foul was committed, and another forward knocked the ball into the open net.
This meant that once again the Blackpool home crowd had a nerve- jangling last fifteen minutes. In fact Blackpool kept the upper hand for most of this time, and the only serious moment was when a Darlington attacker went down under a challenge in the box. The referee waved it away, which was only fair, because he had also ignored a much more obvious foul on Murphy at the other end only moments before. The clock ran down, and eventually the whistle went, and Blackpool had taken three more points.
Lessons to be learned from this? Firstly, I don't think Hughes has been fully fit since his return from injury, and he was not 100% today. Secondly, if Blackpool are going to play two wingbacks, they have to focus most of their attacking through Hills and Simpson on the left - Coid is simply not in the same class when it comes to running at a defender, and he is also obviously unhappy at getting forward and leaving space behind him. Hills doesn't worry about defending when he has the ball - he assumes the central defenders will cover, which is as it should be for a wingback. When Blackpool had things organised in the second half they were a class better, and certainly looked capable of competing for the playoffs. However we can't afford to play like we did in the first half - a sharper attack than Darlington's would have had us two down before we had begun to play.
Team (3-5-2): Kennedy, Hughes (Clarkson 45), O'Connor, Reid, Coid,
Wellens, Collins, Simpson, Hills, Ormerod, Murphy
Subs not used: Barnes, Jaszczun, Bushell, Newell